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Understanding Dementia

My grandmother who’s 94, has Dementia. She repeats herself, gets confused about the time of day, what she’s wearing and whether or not she’s taken her medications. It’s hard, even for someone like myself who’s been trained to work with the elderly. I’m Lisa Cini, and even though I’m considered a leading speaker, author and expert on aging, the issues created around someone dealing with these types of diseases – well, it can be frustrating.

If you can’t quite understand how difficult it is for someone with Alzheimer’s/Dementia on a daily basis, I would ask that you try these four exercises and then write down how you felt. Understanding where they are helps you meet them where they are, and reduce stress for everyone.

Emotional understanding is just as, if not more, important than a physically supportive space. When you have both, it’s a winning combination for everyone.

Exercise 1:

Take a piece of paper and write your name and birth date with your non-dominant hand. Now write how this made you feel. Everyday a person with Alzheimer’s/Dementia feels this way. They know they were better, yet somehow now slower and disconnected, frustrated, and sometimes it’s difficult to even get your brain around how to form the letters. It takes extreme effort and concentration, and yet you’ve been doing this for years! Imagine 80 years…. You know your name and when you were born, but trying to get it on paper legibly and fast is a task.

The brain takes up to 25% of the oxygen needed in your body, which is why mental work is so exhausting.

Exercise 2:

Take out a piece of paper and write down everything you did in 30 minute increments, 2 days ago……from the time you got up till when you went to sleep. Most people don’t get very far. Write down how this makes you feel.

Now remember how we snicker when grandma can’t remember if she took her pills today or ate breakfast. The more someone sleeps, the more difficult remembering becomes.

Exercise 3:

Place your index finger pointed at the sky above your nose (with your head looking up) now turn your finger slowly clockwise, while slowly moving it down (yet close to your body) till it’s at your nose and then lower it continuing to turn it clockwise….. now your head should be looking down at your finger and what do you notice? If you have done the exercise correctly your finger has switched to turning counterclockwise. Magic? Confused? I bet you are; most people will do this 2-3 times before they believe it.

Write down how this made you feel.

What happened? Your perspective changed. My grandmother experiences the world differently than I do because her perspective is different due to the dementia. All the explaining to her in the world can’t make her understand my finger was going clockwise if she’s looking down on the finger and I am looking up on the finger.

What if every day or hour or minute your perspective changed and disoriented you to understanding your reality? Seems pretty cruel, and then you have people that you thought you were safe with and that loved you arguing with you and you know your right but they tell you you’re not. So you become a bit untrusting and paranoid, they are crazy, not you, right? This happens with my grandma taking her pills, she believes that she has taken them and her perspective says she’s 100% right so why would someone force her to take more unless they were trying to hurt her…

This simple exercise can help caregivers, spouses, and family members to understand the change in perspective of someone like my grandmother with Alzheimer’s/Dementia and adapt to using positive manipulation techniques to help get through the normal functions of life vs. arguing with their loved one.

Exercise 4:

This exercise comes from Z-Health. You will need 2 people for this exercise and a cell phone to video.

Blindfold yourself and have the other person video you. If possible, place ear buds or ear protection in your ears to help reduce sound. Now march in place for a minute.

Take off the blindfold and take out the ear buds (if you had them) and see where you are standing now…

What happened? When we take away our sight and lose some of our hearing, it is often more difficult than one would expect to understand where we are in this world and that we are moving, even when we think we are staying in one place.

Recognize that aging adults have lost a substantial amount of their senses, from sight to hearing, touch and on.


The largest lesson from these exercises is to have empathy so that we can meet them where they are. When we come from a place of understanding others and their challenges, communication and connection are increased, which is in direct correlation to having a wonderful quality of life.

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Lisa Cini

Lisa M. Cini is the Founder, President and CEO of Mosaic Design Studio. A global commercial design, project management and procurement company, Mosaic’s mission is to "Improve Quality of Life By Design." Lisa is regarded as the leading Alzheimer's and long-term care design expert in the nation, and has been recognized for her contributions in the field. Lisa is most gratified by helping people who are struggling with Alzheimer’s, find ways to cope as individuals, as families, and as communities.

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